Predictably enough, my freerange enterprise has come to a halt. One of the full grown pullets was found hiding among the pumpkin vines with her head tucked into her neck and her tail down. Two circling goshawks and a load of scared hens tell the rest of the tale.
Goshawks are big enough to kill a large chicken, but not quite big enough to fly away with the carcass, and even killing takes a bit of luck. When a goshawk got into my pen it damaged two adult hens but didn't manage to finish them off (though both were badly injured). To catch them it had to chase them into a corner, so I had reason to suspect chickens free roaming would be able to escape.
For the most part it seems the grown chickens know how to protect themselves while free ranging. They either dive into the old shed for cover (it's very black in there, and a safe haven from hawks), or duck under the low-spreading mandarin tree. Their warning noises to one another are immediately effective. But I remember from when the goshawks were daily pen-visitors that the predators don't give up. Sooner or later I'll have other birds in shock.
So it's back to penned birds for a while, at least until the goshawks get bored. As long as aerial predators like these have a forest to shield their approach, the hens will be vulnerable.
It might be high time to start planting more understorey shrubs...